Neurolinguistic scientists in the laboratory gain unique insights into the fundamental properties of human language by studying American Sign Language. Neurolinguistic studies explore how the brain and environment interact and influence the way deaf and hearing people produce and comprehend language. Studies are beginning to elucidate several issues of central importance to our understanding of human language, including the determination of hemispheric specialization, neural plasticity, and the contribution of symbolic, motoric, and linguistic processes in human language.
Signed languages are not simply conventionalized gestures. Each sign exhibits a complex hierarchical linguistic structure. Linguistic properties of morphology, syntax, and discourse are found in signed languages. Our studies explore how the processing of signed language differs from other languages and how signs differ from other forms of human action.
Researchers in our laboratory investigate how language experience affects cognitive functions in deaf children and adults. Studies of children with cochlear implants provide a unique opportunity to explore the neural plasticity of language acquisition. Studies of deaf adults with brain injury reveal properties governing language breakdown, and motivate the development of rehabilitative and clinical measures.
As researchers in neurolinguistics, we use specialized and advanced techniques (fMRI and ERP) to help us learn about how the human brain understands and produces language. The laboratory welcomes the participation of adult and juvenile volunteers to participate in specific research projects. Through our research, we hope to learn more about the biological foundations that underlie the human capacity for language.